Widower of Canadian soldier says it's his duty to speak out about wife's suicide
The husband of a Canadian soldier who died of suicide Christmas Day after battling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder says it’s his “duty” to share his family’s ordeal so he can prevent it from happening to others.
In an interview with CTV News, Tom MacEachern spoke about his wife Cpl. Leona MacEachern’s death on an Alberta highway on Dec. 25, saying the government did little to help his wife before her death.
The grieving widower is scheduled to testify before a Veteran Affairs committee on Parliament Hill on Thursday.
“It’s my duty, I think, to tell them what went wrong,” MacEachern said Wednesday.
His retired 51-year-old wife was instantly killed Dec. 25 after she intentionally drove her car into an oncoming transport truck on the Trans-Canada highway near Calgary.
The crash was initially believed to be an accidental collision, but MacEachern publicly revealed in a letter days later that his wife, suffering from PTSD, had died of suicide. She left behind a nine-year-old daughter.
In the written statement, MacEachern called the collision a “final desperate act” of a soldier who had developed PTSD as a result of “protracted battles” with Veterans Affairs over medical benefits.
Four months after his wife’s death, MacEachern said his daughter knows “mom was sick” but doesn’t know exactly what happened to her.
MacEachern said his wife, who joined the military after high school, was ultimately abandoned by the Canadian government, with no specialized help for her PTSD, and little acknowledgement for her service.
“When she died, her military pension after 23 years of service was $172.05,” MacEachern said.
Adding insult to the tragedy, MacEachern received a letter from Veterans Affairs two days after his wife’s funeral, demanding repayment on a portion of her monthly disability cheque.
The letter expressed condolences to the family, and stated that the “overpayment of $581.67” was due because MacEachern did not live through the full month.
At the time, MacEachern called it a “slap in the face.”
In late January, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said the decision to collect the money had been reversed.
“(The government) should really have more compassion when dealing with people,” MacEachern said Wednesday.
Leona MacEachern’s death followed a string of military suicides that has raised concerns about the treatment of troubled soldiers, veterans and families.
Four Canadian soldiers died from apparent suicides in late November and early December.
Last month, an Ontario woman received a one-cent cheque from the federal government for her son, a soldier who died of suicide in 2011.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson later apologized for the cheque -- labelled as “release pay” – calling it an “insensitive bureaucratic screw-up.”
In a statement sent to CTV News on Thursday, Fantino said MacEachern had shown "great strength" in an difficult time for his family.
"I have spoken and met with him several times to ensure that Veterans Affairs is doing all it can to provide support. I invited him to appear before the Veterans Affairs Committee and am grateful that he accepted. All parliamentarians can learn from his story to better enable us to serve the men and women who so bravely served Canada," Fantino said.
With a report by CTV News' Omar Sachedina